Stings for Underage Alcohol Sales (Compliance Checks)

Compliance checks or stings for underage alcohol sales are very popular. However, to be legal, they must be done without entrapment. Basically, entrapment is inducing people to commit a crime they are not “predisposed” to commit and would not ordinarily commit.

The Department of Justice stresses that “Entrapment is a complete defense to a criminal charge.”1 A valid entrapment defense has two parts. (1) Government inducement of the crime, and (2) the defendant’s lack of predisposition to engage in the criminal conduct.

It’s legal for police to lie in stings.

Even if a defendant can prove illegal inducement, proof of predisposition destroys the defense. The question is simple. Was the defendant “an unwary innocent or, instead, an unwary criminal?” Therefore, police should have evidence of predisposition before the sting.

Avoiding Illegally Entrapping the Innocent

Prosecutors want to avoid losing cases because defendants prove illegal entrapment. Therefore, the standard compliance check is to prevent entrapment. It specifies that if a cashier asks for ID, the under age person in the sting is to

stings for underage alcohol sales

  1. Immediately stop trying to buy alcohol.
  2. Leave the premises.

The under ager in the sting is not to

  1. Present a false ID card.
  2. Give an excuse for not having any I.D.
  3. Present an ID showing the correct age.
  4. Otherwise try to obtain an illegal sale.

Effectiveness of Stings

Because of legal requirements, sting operations may not be as successful as we might hope. This is because clerks quickly learn how to avoid entrapment. At the same time, under age purchasers learn how to that they are not part of a sting operation.

Specifically, an underage buyer need only present a false I.D. or make an excuse for not having one. Or even present his or her own legitimate I.D. The clerk then realizes that the sale can safely be made because the purchaser isn’t involved in a sting operation.

Some police departments follow different policies to avoid charges of entrapment. Some are even guilty of illegal entrapment. In some cases, they may permit the under age operatives to offer an excuse or otherwise persist to some degree. However, underage buyers and clerks quickly become aware of what is locally done in sting operations. Therefore, they adjust their actions accordingly.

Stings are Popular

In spite of their low effectiveness, sting operations are popular. They satisfy

  • Public desire to “clamp down.”
  • Law enforcement desire to show it’s taking action. (This and generates public and tax support.)
  • Parental desires for helping “control and protect” their young people.

Of course, what they don’t do is reduce illegal sales very well.

Other Ways to Reduce Abuse

Fortunately, there are effective and inexpensive way to reduce the use and abuse of alcohol by young people. Here are several.

This page doesn’t provide legal advice or opinion. For legal advice, always see a lawyer.

Resources: Stings for Underage Alcohol Sales

Web Pages


Lynne-Landsman, S. et al. Alcohol Sales to Youth. Prev Sci, 2016, 17(1), 32-9.

Roodbeen, al. Can vendors’ age limit control measures increase compliance with the alcohol age limit? Int J Drug Pol, 2018, 61, 7-14.

van Hoof, J. The role of consumer age and financial profit in vendor compliance for underage alcohol sales. Euro J Pub Health, 2019, 29(4), 758-760. 


1 Entrapment – Elements.